Pickleball works — Delaware pickleball and community

Local pickleball is blossoming in many of our neighborhoods. Steve Costa and his wife, Colleen, just finished managing the third season of the Coastal Communities Pickleball League, now composed of 16 local communities. I affectionately call it “the fun league,” and Steve and the team captains do a wonderful job bringing laughter and exercise to well over 300 of our citizens. Well done, Steve!

No wonder the recent five-year recreation study for the governor of Delaware reported that 20 percent of Delaware residents snuggled into the southeastern corner of Sussex County play pickleball. And 20 percent of us are struggling to find pickleball courts where we can come together to play the most social sport ever created.

We still don’t have enough pickleball courts for our pickleball community, and newer pickleball players could not be expected to know the backstory of how we fought tooth and nail for those few courts we do have — hundreds of meetings with politicians, school administrators and HOAs, as well as hundreds of hours of clinics in parking lots.

Fred Valente of Bay Forest, who completed the Maryland Route 404 project up to the Delaware line, retired and then organized a pickleball tournament. Well, he didn’t retire immediately, because he had to lug a trophy from the governor’s office back to Delaware in his pickup. Fred then retired, slept late that first day, and then went to work helping promote pickleball at Bay Forest, as one of the captains in the Coastal Communities Pickleball League.

Fred, Steve Donohue, David Lipstein and some others, including Fairway Village’s Mike Smith, ran a series of clinics specifically for home owners at Bay Forest. While they were helping their Bay Forest neighbors learn pickleball, their developer built an indoor recreational facility so that home owners can play indoor pickleball or basketball, etc.

Fred recently ran a tournament at their newly opened indoor facility and reported that 60 home owners participated, and there were another 30 who couldn’t make it. Wow — 90 people in one community almost overnight. Well done, everyone who made that happen.

At Bay Forest at Bethany Beach, a Natelli Community, they have erected a large sign proudly displaying that Bay Forest was voted the Best Community in the Nation by the National Association of Home Owners as part of their premier residential design awards program.

Snuggled near Indian River is the long-established Tuckahoe Acres, where they built several first-class dedicated pickleball courts as an amenity for their owners and invited Rick Bell, a certified instructor within the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA), to teach owners and their guests. In the other direction, Millville By the Sea also has two first-class dedicated pickleball courts for their home owners.

Another completely different type of community participating in the Coastal Communities Pickleball League is CHEER of Ocean View. I visited the CHEER Center, and it is a happening place. They have more energy in those four walls than the Indian River power plant. Seniors participate in multiple activities, including line dancing, yoga, bingo, tai chi and, yes, pickleball.

They play pickleball on two temporary courts laid out on the parking lot by volunteers and taught by volunteers. This season, they took to the pickleball courts with 16 talented players who Nan “Pickleball Nan” Colella recruited and taught.

CHEER’s mission is to promote and provide services to enhance quality of life and independence for citizens 50 and older. I spoke with the multi-tasking Yolanda Gallego, Ocean View site manager, and asked her one question that froze the telephone in midair, just inches from her ear.

I asked what was the one project over the last seven years that she is most proud of. You might think I asked a longtime NFL quarterback the best pass they ever threw. She paused for the longest time and then said it would have to be her volunteers, and how they help lonely people.

I asked Yolanda for several names of some outstanding volunteers who also played pickleball for CHEER. Again she paused, because so many volunteers, outstanding citizens, are the lifeblood of her ability to render services to seniors who might have lost a life partner. I realized I had asked her an impossible question and withdrew it. Drop into CHEER when you next feel you need an energy transfusion and see how they help all of us. Thank you, Yolanda!

The Coastal Communities Pickleball League did a “Just a Buck” campaign this last season, and selected CHEER as a recipient of the money raised. Based on my experience, it seems like a donation well made.

In other news, Coastal Communities Pickleball League and First State Pickleball Club, with the team captains in the recent Survivors Team Pickleball Competition, gifted $2,000 to the new Beebe Health Campus.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point